Windows 8 review (for desktops and laptops)

Microsoft has ditched the Start button, added Live Tiles, beefed up security and touch screen support. But is the revamped OS suitable for business use on desktops and laptops?

Security and backup

Microsoft is (perhaps understandably) not making a big fuss about it, but the previous standalone Microsoft Security Essentials has morphed into Windows Defender, and is pre-installed and activated on every Windows 8 system. It isn't exactly feature-packed, but it should handle most people's basic security needs. Interestingly, it isn't integrated with the Windows Firewall; instead, they're treated as two separate applications, which we suspect is a political decision taken to avoid accusations of usurping full security suites.

Windows 8 - Defender

Windows 7's backup software has been replaced by a much more flexible alternative. The new File History feature is a superb addition; it keeps multiple versions of files in libraries, your SkyDrive or on the desktop, so you can roll back if the latest copy of a document is corrupted or if you make changes you regret. The location can be a network drive, too, for added security.

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Then there are the new Storage Spaces. Multiple disks even of different capacities can be organised into one virtual storage pool. Within this, you can create storage spaces that scale dynamically to the available capacity across the whole pool as files are added. You can add more disks to expand your pool, and even set it up to mirror files on different disks for added security. It's a powerful tool for power users.

Productivity

Microsoft has tweaked the multimonitor setting in Windows 8, with a quick Charm menu offering the usual choices of duplication or extension. You can now stretch one panoramic desktop background across multiple screens, and choose which single display will host the Start screen whenever you press the Windows key. This means that you can keep documents open on one desktop monitor while searching for files on the other.

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Windows 8 has a few more new features to boost your productivity. It now recognises and handles ISO images natively, so you can run an installer from an image without having to burn it to a disc first. Windows Update will detect new updates but delay installation until a convenient time no more random reboots in the middle of editing a document, unless you ignore critical security warnings for days on end.

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A full nine-page review of Windows 8 will appear in issue 217 of PC Pro, on sale 13 September.

Verdict

Is upgrading to Windows 8 a no-brainer for those running Windows 7 on PCs and laptops? No, far from it. The vast majority of the work has been devoted to the new Metro interface, and that’s the part that’s least compelling on regular PCs. Navigation is awkward and few Metro apps scale well on large screens. However, there are several excellent new features in Windows 8 for desktop users: File History, integrated antivirus, the revamped Task Manager, SkyDrive integration, native support for VMs and much improved boot times. But does all that add up to anything more than we’d expect from a Service Pack? Hardly. Does it justify paying $40 for an upgrade? Again, it’s a borderline case. For businesses, we see no compelling reason to upgrade at all and suspect Windows 8 will join Vista on the Mary Celeste of forgotten operating systems. In conclusion, Windows 8 has relatively little to offer those who do their computing on a desktop or laptop PC. This isn’t a terrible thing – Windows 7 wasn’t exactly broken to begin with – but it means that upgrading to Windows 8 is far from essential. We’ve all upgraded in the PC Pro office, and no one’s gone back yet, but it simply isn’t the must-have advance we were hoping for when development began.

Minimum requirements: 1GHz or higher CPU; 1GB of RAM for 32-bit; 2GB of RAM for 64-bit; 20GB of storage

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